Shake off that gala hangover and get back to work!


If you’re on the staff or board of one of the 27,000 nonprofits in New York City, chances are good that you’re either having a gala this spring or planning one for the fall.  My condolences.

DISCLAIMER: If you’re just getting to know me, then you just found out that I consider event planning an occupational hazard. Whether it’s a wedding (there were 200 people at mine), a sweet sixteen (over 100 at my daughter’s), or a fundraising event (been to five in the past month), events are steeped in details that just drive me bananas.  No, I don’t care about the decor, the menu, centerpieces, or the runners on the tables.  Just tell me when to show up, what to wear, and what time I can go home.

But alas, galas are ubiquitous and very, very necessary for the bottom line of many organizations.

I heard a wise board member once say “I want our gala to be a social success and a financial success.” Sadly, I’ve also seen development officers, CEOs and event planners apologize for anemic fundraising results by calling the event a “friendraiser” and promising donations yet to come through “follow up” and “ongoing cultivation.”  It’s true that event follow up is an excellent the opportunity to cross-sell and/or upgrade gala donors, but in far too many cases it doesn’t happen. Here are some tips on how to make sure it does:

  1. Thank them immediately.  Process and formally acknowledge your gala gifts within three days of the event. Informally thank donors again on their social media pages – for example, tag them in the pictures you post on your social media sites.
  2. Prospect your list of attendees.  Take a good look at who was in the room, and conduct research/wealth profiles to find out their giving capacity and philanthropic values.  In other words, look for the big fish.
  3. Go on a cultivation tour. Any attendee who made a major gift to the gala should have the opportunity to meet with the CEO or a key board member.  This is an opportunity to start building a relationship with the donor by asking them questions about their giving aspirations.
  4. Stay connected.  Every organization should have a standard for how many touch points should be made with donors that DO NOT include an ask. Add them to your email list and “friend/follow” them on social media so they can stay up to date with the work of the organization in a non-intrusive way.
  5. Don’t let them forget.  Six months after the gala hangover has worn off, make sure to remind them what a good time they had and rekindle the good feelings and spirit of generosity that made your gala so special.  Post a photo/or video with a programmatic highlight to remind them of the work that their gift made possible. And make sure you tag them in the photo, so all of their friends know what a boss philanthropist they are.
  6. Look for deeper engagement. Through your ongoing stewardship efforts, you should have identified donors who are ready to step it up a notch.  Ask them to volunteer on your event committee, provide more names to add to your invitation list, join the inner circle of the annual fund campaign, or directly support specific programs or initiatives of the organization.
  7. Start planning next year’s gala. A gala is a non-stop, year round extravaganza. So get out of bed, nix that comp day and get started. Next year’s gala starts today!

If you’re connected to one of the 27,000 nonprofits  in New York City and you need help in maximizing on your gala fundraising, I strongly recommend and endorse Stetwin Consulting for your event planning needs. Having worked with them on several events in the past, I can attest that they go above and beyond the event planning minutiae and focus on fundraising results.  Happy fundraising!


Coach Dave

All stories by: Coach Dave

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